Monday, May 13, 2013

My Story by Courtney Post van der Burg

Editor’s note: Post van der Burg will present her unique perspective on corrections officers as the wife of one and daughter of another. This is her second of two insights as to what happens at the Maine Correctional Center and what is projected to happen should the proposed construction take place.

The Maine Legislator has passed a $100 million bond, after a two-year feasibility study, to rebuild the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Right now, the center can house around 600 inmates, the new building would be able to house around 1,200 inmates. When you think of the expansion of something most people would think that there would then be an increase in the number of jobs. This happens to not be the case here.
The State wants to rebuild and expand the center to have better flow to make it easier to monitor, control and rehabilitate inmates, along with the reason that the center right now has many areas that are old and dilapidated. This all sounds great, the officers would have new doors that don’t jam anymore, and they don’t have to walk long hallways and not be able to monitor all inmates at once.  This new environment would be safer for the inmates and the officers. Not only would a new building be efficient, but it would save money. The State is also saying that because of the new redesign of the center it would need less staff. I don’t know who’s idea this was but if right now there is a problem with the lack of staff at a facility of 600 inmates, then how is housing 1,200 inmates with less staff going to be safer?  I don’t feel my family members and friends working there are safe right now, and I’m sure not going to feel they are safe with more inmates and less staff nor will I feel the community will be safe from escapes if there are less staff to monitor and control the increased number of inmates. 

With a new building and less officers the state is looking to save around $8 million a year. I am all for saving money, I do that at home, and I never leave the house without my coupons. When I read (in the Bangor Daily News) that there would be an $8 million a year savings I got kind of excited about the issue. Correctional officers in Maine have not had a raise or step increase in five years. More than half the officers in Windham work at base pay with one extra dollar for direct care making their pay $14.57 an hour, then to top it off it is mandatory to join and pay union dues which costs the officers $17.60 every two weeks. The ones who feel the costs the most are the officers with families. For those officers you have to take away what they pay for medical for the families.

Now, I dare you all to take a look at your paystubs and see how much is taken out in retirement, Social Security, taxes and so forth; it adds up. But I can say at least for myself that I get paid for the work I do, these officers don’t.  Most officers have second jobs, like my husband, who works seven days a week. With the $8 million in savings the first thing that came to mind was these hard working officers will either get one or both; a step increase or at least a cost of living raise (because we know in the past five years the cost of living has increased for everyone). This happens to not be the case. They are looking to freeze step increases for another four years and cost of living raises for another two years. I understand that there are bills that need to be paid by the state and we need to have cuts somewhere, but how many hits can one community take. I know that as my family’s bills increase it will only get harder and require him or myself to be out of the home away from our family to make up the money somewhere else. I’m not sure about other companies or state jobs, but to go without any cost of living increase for five years and then possibly add another two years, is that normal? How much longer can my family and other families of officers live with daily costs going up and paychecks going down or at a standstill? I’m nervous about my family’s finances in the next year or so. What I am sure about is my family will work harder and more hours so we can make it. I am also very sure that at the end of every year we will still say we are happy to live in Windham in the great State of Maine.

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